March 31 annual inspection renewal time always reminds me of several interesting cases that came about involving inspection authorization (IA) use and renewal. Let’s refresh our memories and take a look at two such cases.
The question to the FSDO
A technician very innocently called his local FSDO to ask if he could use his IA to inspect and certify an aircraft when his A&P was under suspension for a separate minor infraction. There were some local differences of opinion on this point between some technicians and inspectors. The inspector said that he would check the regulations and any current interpretations and get back to him.
I had been involved in a case previously where a similar event had taken place. I inquired further on what the outcome was on that case. We don’t know for sure whether or not the inspector ever got back to the technician with an answer, but what follows offers some idea of what happened as time went on.
The airman had his A&P suspended for 30 days for failing to properly endorse his entry of a return to service after performing maintenance. During the 30-day suspension period he did not pay attention to his calendar, and had performed an annual inspection on another aircraft but did not exercise his A&P privileges while performing the annual inspection. In other words, he said he did not perform any maintenance on the aircraft. All he did was inspect the plane. He thought, somewhat logically, that as long as he did not perform any maintenance he was still able to perform an inspection.
During a routine audit of the local flight school, the same inspector noticed that the A&P had performed an annual inspection on one of the school’s aircraft during the time his A&P was suspended. This was the same inspector he had talked to on the phone with the question.
The inspector asked for no explanations of the situation from the airman and sent off his report to the Regional Counsel with his recommendation for an immediate emergency revocation of all of the man’s certificates, including his IA, on an emergency basis.
As it turned out there was some valid basis for confusion on the point because various technicians and inspectors viewed the regulation in a different way. FAR 65.92a is quite clear on what is necessary in order to perform the function of an IA — but FAR 65.92b adds a little twist.
“… an inspection authorization ceases to be effective …
- when it is surrendered
- when no fixed base of operation exists
- when it no longer has equipment, or facilities ...”
Here, this part of the regulation states that an IA ceases to be effective on the occurrence of specific events. Other events are mentioned, but none include any specific reference to the suspension of an A&P certificate.
The man argued this point during his hearing on the case. He simply said that since the section clearly sets out how the authorization ceases to be effective, then failure to include the requirement of having a valid A&P certificate should mean that he should be able to use his IA while his A&P was suspended, regardless of what the previous section says. This seemed logical to many technicians who discussed the subject. This was not the first time that this argument had been used under similar circumstances. Needless to say, the argument did not convince the hearing officer. The violation decision was final.
I didn’t know
Ignorance of the interpretation of the regulation is no excuse. FAR 65.92a is very clear on the requirement of an A&P in order to perform IA functions. You should also keep in mind that your lack of any intent to violate the regulation also offers no excuse. However, intent is a very important factor in regard to the matter of what sanction or penalty shall be imposed.
The hearing officer in this case was convinced that the man did not intend to violate the rule and the fact that he had asked the FSDO for a ruling on the point also supported his request for a reduction in the revocation penalty.
Keep in mind that a single incident of regulatory noncompliance may compel that the certificate holder lacks the qualification to hold the certificate. Further, a violation that involves your qualification to hold the certificate will result in an emergency revocation every time. However, on the other side of the coin, in order to relate the violation to the qualification issue, the facts must amount to something described by the NTSB as “a gross indifference to the requirements of air safety.”
The judge in this case decided that there must be some confusion on the point of contention between technicians and inspectors in the field. After all, the inspector himself was not sure of the rule and its application. He could have read 65.92b by itself and concluded that the IA certificate was valid since a valid A&P was not included in the 65.92b.
The law judge found that the violation of FAR 62.92a was unintentional and the FAA didn’t dispute this finding. However, the FAA still held out for revocation even though the violation was unintentional. Still, the FAA had no authority to support this sanction under the circumstances. A single, inadvertent and unintentional violation of the FAR does not warrant such a severe sanction as revocation.
The FAA maintained that revocation was required because the man deliberately performed an annual inspection knowing that there might be a question as to the validity of his IA certificate. The judge did not agree. He simply stated that “It is deliberate violations, not deliberate actions that should raise questions about qualifications.” The judge said further that there was no support for the contention by the FAA that ignorance of the regulation amounts to contempt or disdain for the regulations sufficient to revoke a certificate.
The other observation that was interesting about this case was that the 30-day suspension of the man’s A&P certificate that caused the problem in the first place did not specifically include the suspension of his IA authorization. He said that one might conclude, as the technician in this case did, that his competency to exercise the IA privilege was not an issue in this case and therefore he could continue to exercise this privilege.
It was argued that the man simply assumed, quite reasonably, that because his A&P suspension order did not mention his IA, he could continue to use it. There is little doubt that if the FAA had added IA suspension to the A&P order of suspension, this case would never have come up.
It’s important to understand that revocation of a certificate is mandated in all cases where, for example, an airman operates an aircraft when his certificate is suspended. Likewise, if the man in this example had exercised the privileges of his A&P during the suspension period, he would have been subjected to summary revocation. All cases involving revocations include willful violations of the regulations. Revocations are painful results of flagrant conduct and they are tough to deal with, much less defend.
Fortunately, in this case described, the judge had the insight to apply common sense and a simple solution to what, in fact, was only a minor infraction. The man had his A&P and his IA suspended for an additional 60 days — a far cry from revocation.
Lost proof of attendance – failure to renew on time
Another common mistake in regard to IA renewal is the matter of not hanging onto seminar attendance proof or failing to file renewal application on time.
The two-year IA renewal cycle just expired on March 31 — and if you did not renew, you have a problem. Those of us who use the annual inspection training seminar option to renew our authorization must, of course, show proof of attendance with our application to renew. The technician I talked with after the March date had passed said that he had attended a renewal seminar for the first year and had his attendance signed off on a form, but he had misplaced the form and had neglected to submit any application along with the forms before the passage of the March 31 deadline. What happens now?
He, of course, had several other mechanics state that they had attended also and could attest to the fact that the man was there. This might have sufficed to get over the matter of the attendance problem, but he did not submit his application until several months had passed beyond the March 31 renewal date. He said he just forgot about it. The FAA said “sorry, but you dropped the ball on two points.” The conclusion: take the IA exam over again! Yes, that’s what happened.
The man did not challenge this drastic result because he was confident that he could again convince an inspector that he was fully qualified (as he once was) to pass the test again.
It is clear that you must pay attention to the rules or suffer the consequences. Don’t let that March 31 deadline day pass. There appears to be no other solution other than retaking the exam. Also, we should all be aware by now that there is a two-year renewal cycle. That is, you must submit two applications with attached proof of attendance at a seminar for each year (if that is the renewal option selected). Just be careful to retain your attendance form from each seminar attended and submit with two application forms.
Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an Airframe and Powerplant certificate, is an ATP rated pilot, and is a USAF veteran.